Some Risk Factors and Common Causes of Dementia

Dementia is a common illness that can dramatically affect the lives of sufferers and those charged with their care.

In this short guide, we explore some of the causes, warning signs and steps for management of dementia, which is one of 38 listed medical conditions under NobleOak’s Trauma Insurance. Of course, this information is provided as a guide only and it’s not a substitute for consulting your medical practitioner.

Prevalence of dementia in Australia

In Australia, there are more than 400,000 people suffering from dementia. (1) The percentage split is almost equal in terms of gender, although women tend to suffer from it more than men, with around 55% of the 400,000 being women.

In Australian residential care homes, more than 50% of all residents are suffering from some form of dementia.

While the figures are quite shocking, it should be noted that great strides are being made all of the time in the medical fields that look to understand more about the condition and develop new ways to reduce its prevalence in people all over the world.

  • In those over 65 years of age, almost one in ten people have some form of dementia
  • Dementia is the greatest single cause of disability in Australians over the age of 65
  • On average, the most common symptoms of dementia can be spotted by family members three years before an official diagnosis is made
  • Dementia is the leading cause of death in Australian women

Recognising the symptoms of dementia

What dementia is and what it is not can be something which is quite difficult to decipher in the early days of the onset of the condition. Something like forgetfulness may seem like a habit that a loved one has always been known for, so it can be difficult to appreciate how that regular behaviour is deteriorating into something much more serious.

Early signs of dementia

A problem with recognising dementia at an early stage is that the tell-tale signs may just seem like pretty normal behaviour for some people. The physical symptoms will often be very subtle at the early stage and not immediately obvious.

It is also important to realise that early symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another.

As you would expect, however, it is often through memory loss that people first seem to notice and start to recognise that there could be a bigger problem. Here we will break down some of the most common signs of dementia:

Memory loss affecting day-to-day functions

We all forget things from time to time, but it is when this starts to become the norm, you may have to accept that you or your loved one could be in the early throes of dementia.

At the outset, things will be forgotten and then remembered. Later, the person suffering from dementia may not even realise they have forgotten.

Problems performing normal tasks

Something like cooking can be an area where the telltale signs of dementia really come into play. A person who is struggling to remember things will find it harder to maintain attention with a previously simple task and may lose track completely about what it was they were trying to do in the first place.

Sudden struggles with time and place

We’ve all forgotten what day it is on occasion, but those suffering from dementia can start to lose track of the places around them. They may begin to get lost on a routine trip, or simply forget where it was they were meant to be going.

Not being able to find the right word

Again, this is something that happens to everyone some of the time, but it is also a tell-tale sign of dementia in a person when you realise that the person is often failing to complete sentences or just forgetting simple words.

Issues with abstract thought

Things like keeping your finances in order can be a struggle for many people. Those with early dementia may often start to struggle with these tasks more than you would normally expect them to.

Spatial awareness issues

A person suffering from dementia may start to misjudge distances, causing them to miss steps or drive more erratically than they did before.

Changes in behaviour

The person suffering from dementia may well be aware of a problem before those around them. This can often manifest itself into more moody behaviour. When the problem gets worse, dementia suffers are likely to become confused more often and they may start to act more suspiciously and withdrawn.

Final stages of dementia

Unfortunately, the final stages of dementia can be soul destroying for those that are left to witness the damage that it brings to the person you knew so well before. For the sufferer, it is also a very trying time.

As the severity of the illness increases, the person affected will rely more on those around them. Until a certain point they may maintain some level of independence, but it is important to be aware of just how seriously dementia can come to affect people as it becomes more entrenched.

In the later stages of dementia, the person suffering from this condition will usually need round the clock assistance. Even the simplest of tasks will be too much for them to confidently complete alone. At this point, it is simply not safe for them to be alone.

The final stages of dementia are an incredibly difficult time for all concerned. As a carer, the best thing you can do is to make sure that your loved one is given the very best level of attention, whether this is at home or in a more professional environment.

If you are a carer, it also important for you to receive as much emotional support as possible. Witnessing a loved one suffering from this type of chronic illness is on some measures almost crueler than their death as you still have the person in your life, but they often no longer even know that you are there. This is a difficult period to navigate and you must seek out as much support as you can in order to help you both get through it in the best possible way.

Dementia causes and risk factors

Dementia can occur due to a range of circumstances, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. And because men and women can have more than one type of dementia the risk factors are wide and varied. Unlike other conditions where bad lifestyle choices can play a key role in their onset, dementia is more commonly connected to genetic factors and time simply beginning to take its toll.

While dementia is still something that the medical community is not close to eradicating, paying close attention to some of the external things which could cause it may reduce your risks of suffering from it in later life.

Genetics

It is not a myth that genetics can play a big role in whether or not you will suffer from dementia. Researchers have discovered a number of genes that increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Family history does then play a part, but it is also true that people who have a history of Alzheimer’s in their family have gone on to lead healthy lives with no trace of the disease.

Age

Again, it is not a myth that age plays a huge role in this traumatic health event. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and several other dementias all go up significantly with advancing age. There is simply nothing we can do about this one.

Family medical history

As mentioned above, family medical history can act as a risk factor. Those with a history of dementia in their family are at a higher threat, but in many cases this is not so. Conversely, just because there is no history of the illness in your family, you should not believe that you too will not suffer from it later on.

Lifestyle factors

The above reasons are the most common causes of dementia but lifestyle factors have also been cited as triggers for the onset of this health condition. These include:

Tobacco

Smoking significantly increases the chances of dementia. People who smoke have a higher risk of atherosclerosis and other types of vascular disease which is believed to be one of the underlying causes of the increase in dementia risk.

Alcohol

Abusers of alcohol have a higher risk of dementia. Interestingly, some studies have shown that those with a moderate intake of alcohol may actually reduce their chances of suffering from dementia.

Medical Conditions

Diabetes

Diabetes is a risk factor for both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. It is also connected to a higher risk of stroke which itself increases the risk of dementia.

High cholesterol

High cholesterol has been linked to an increase in the risk of vascular dementia. Some studies have also drawn a link to bad cholesterol and Alzheimer’s.

Plasma homocysteine

A higher-than-average blood level of homocysteine, a type of amino acid, is a strong risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment

While the link is not 100%, it has been shown that those with mild cognitive impairment may be more susceptible to dementia later in life. It is estimated that people with MCI are 3-5 times more likely to develop dementia than others their age.(2)

Looking after yourself

It should go without saying that a healthy mind and body are two of the biggest assets you have when it comes to fighting off dementia.

The physical symptoms will ultimately leave the sufferer almost incapable of taking care of themselves, so it is imperative that you give yourself the best possible chance to avoid this scenario by keeping fit and healthy while you can.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet will both have a positive influence on your ability to stay strong and healthy for longer.

Lifestyle changes for preventing dementia

As much as eating well and doing some daily physical exercise, a good way to help ward off dementia is to keep mentally active. This could come from doing crosswords or joining a book club, or taking up any other simple activity that you enjoy which pushes you a little bit mentally.

As dementia is still a long way from being fully understood, there are no proven ways to beat it, but keeping mentally alert certainly won’t hurt.

Taking out insurance

Being diagnosed with a major health event like dementia can be a life-changing moment, not only for you but for your loved ones. The truth is, we don’t know what’s around the corner. Getting adequate cover for a health event of this magnitude can offer financial security to help you when you need it most.

NobleOak offers comprehensive Trauma Insurance cover of up to $2,000,000. This cover pays a lump sum benefit following the diagnosis of dementia which is one of the 38 listed medical conditions with NobleOak’s trauma cover. You can purchase Trauma Cover as an optional extra with Life Insurance or as stand-alone cover. Please note details of cover and exclusions (including the definitions of the listed conditions, the waiting period applicable for some conditions, and the survival period which applies where Trauma Cover is taken as stand-alone cover) are provided in the Product Disclosure Statement.

Life Insurance options

 

Dementia FAQs

Is dementia the same as Alzheimer’s?

Yes and no. Dementia is an umbrella term under which many conditions may fall. Alzheimer’s is one of the most common forms of dementia.

What is younger onset dementia?

It is a broad term to describe the scenario where a person is suffering from dementia-related symptoms before the age of 65.

Is dementia fatal?

Unfortunately, yes. A little like cancer, dementia is a disease that is ultimately a fatal brain failure which will eventually kill the person who is suffering from it.

Can stress cause dementia?

High levels of stress can affect the brain which can, in turn, lead to the onset of dementia over time.

Is dementia more common in females?

Yes, but this tends to be because women usually live longer than men.

 

1. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dementia-statistics
2. https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia-and-memory-loss/about-dementia/memory-loss/mild-cognitive-impairment

Anthony R Brown - CEO NobleOak Life Ltd

Anthony R Brown - CEO NobleOak Life Ltd

14 May 2019 - 5 minute read